Physical violence and emotional trauma are part of the daily currency of journalism. In situations as diverse as war, traffic accidents, murder trials and child abuse, news people deal with victims, perpetrators and innocent bystanders. Sometimes, violence is directed against the journalists themselves. Despite the drama surrounding war zone coverage, the great majority of journalists killed in the line of duty worldwide die in domestic situations. Many are killed because of what they inquire into and write about. The price of democracy is high. Journalists sometimes pay a high emotional price as well. Time was when newsroom culture held that journalists, as observers rather than participants, should be immune to the toll of this kind of immersion. Those who knew they weren’t often kept it to themselves – for fear of jeopardizing their standing in the newsroom or even their careers. 

Today, thoughtful journalists, educators, employers and union representatives are working to change that aspect of traditional newsroom culture. They recognize that journalists, like police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and many more, sometimes need help in dealing with emotional distress. And there’s a growing recognition that whatever affects individuals’ emotional lives is likely, in some circumstances, to affect their perceptions and their reporting, no matter how hard they strive to prevent it. 

Journalists have no shortage of ethical issues to confront in reporting on victims, violence and trauma. Editors, producers, 
reporters and photographers seek to balance the public’s need for accurate, unflinching reporting against the possibility of inflicting harm. At the same time, it has never been more dangerous to be a journalist. The International News Safety Institute keeps an annual tally:157 journalists killed in 2012; 127 killed in 2013; 108 killed in 2014; 110 killed in 2015; 106 killed in 2016; 68 journalists and media staff and 4 citizen journalists killed in 2017; 71 journalists and media staff and 4 citizen journalists were killed in 2018; 42 journalists and media staff and 2 citizen journalists killed in 2019; and 46 journalists killed in 2020; and 9 so far in 2021.
The Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma keeps a Canadian spotlight on these issues, in all their complexity. It holds workshops and conferences, and works to provide support material to facilitate discussion with employers, unions, other journalistic organizations, health professionals and journalism educators across the country. The Forum also fosters research and the exploration of a range of ethical issues linked with covering violent and traumatic events. It helps individual Canadian journalists facing difficulties find the help they need and to appreciate that they are not alone. 

Photo (top): John Owen, professor of international journalism, City University London (UK), moderates opening plenary of the Forum's inaugural conference "Journalism In A Violent World" in 2008. Panellists (from left): Ian Stewart, former West Africa bureau chief, Associated Press; Brian Kelly, cameraman, CBC News; and Dr. Anthony Feinstein, professor of psychiatry, University of Toronto. Credit: Ryner Stoetzer

Photo (middle): Dr. Anthony Feinstein, psychiatrist, University of Toronto; journalist and documentary filmmaker Michelle Shephard; consultant Mary Ann Baynton speak at a panel on moral injury and vicarious trauma at the 2018 national conference of the Canadian Association of Journalists in Toronto. Credit: Jane Hawkes